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Past Present I
cover design © 2008 Ardy M. Scott.

 

 

 

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Past Present I: Web of Lies

Celia A. Leaman

 

 

 

Chapter One

Anne--England 1960s

 

  Anne Graham sat in the dining room of the Widecombe Inn, waiting for her breakfast. She smiled as she saw Liam coming out of the kitchen, bringing it to her. He put it down on the table. "Careful," he said. "That plate's red hot."

Anne's mouth watered as she looked at the plate piled with sausages, bacon, tomatoes and scrambled eggs. "Wow, that's a lot."

"I gave you extra," he said. "Only the best for Bea's niece."

Anne suspected his reason was less her relationship to Bea, but more because he fancied her. "Thanks. Is Bea coming in today by the way?" she asked.

Liam glanced at his watch. "In about an hour or so." He pulled out a chair and sat down. "So, what're you doing here so early in the morning?"

Anne finished a mouthful of sausage. "I came for the sale."

"Ah yes. Big, I hear?"

"There's tons of stuff there. Bea said there would be. It isn't just one estate sale apparently, but several."

"I heard that, too. So, what did you come for in particular?"

"A table." Anne had seen just what she wanted, too, but she didn't go into details; although Liam might fancy her, she didn't fancy him at all, and didn't wish him to know any more about her than he already did. She'd heard that he took girls behind the village hall when there were dances. Shag'em and Leave'em Liam was his nickname. She didn't want a boyfriend like that.

"How come you're here so early?" he said. "The bus isn't in yet."

"I didn't come by bus this time. Bea treated me to a taxi ride."

"She's good to you, your aunt."

"Yes, she is," Anne agreed wholeheartedly.

"Well," he said, getting up and replacing his chair neatly beneath the table, "if you need a ride home, you only have to ask. I get off at four. We could go to the pictures maybe?"

"Thanks, Liam, I appreciate it." Anne gave him a smile, but avoided meeting his eyes. She didn't want to hurt his feelings, but every time he saw her, he hinted at a date. She wished he wouldn't.

He hovered for a moment then nodded and returned to the kitchen.

Anne savored the taste of the crispy bacon. Liam was a good cook, she had to admit. And the tea was good and strong, just how she liked it.

She looked around at the practically empty dining room. Everyone was at the sale she supposed. Bea had written two weeks ago to tell her about it, and had sent her five pounds. What a contrast to Enid, her mother, who never gave her a penny towards anything, only grief that morning for coming there.

"What do you want a table for?" Enid had asked, looking at Anne suspiciously. Anne had only reluctantly told her. She hated talking about her writing to both her mother and sister, as they only made fun of her, saying she was trying to be something she wasn't.

Carol, Anne's sister, had sniggered, "I could tell you a few stories."

Although Enid frowned at her, she rarely openly chastised her youngest daughter. Carol was queen of the prom in that house, and was firmly entrenched in their mother's affections.

Anne knew it was useless to get upset about it; it was just the way things were and always had been. It was Carol this and Carol that--even though Carol behaved like a slut. Her latest boyfriend was the son of a scrap dealer. Mucky people, she said, when talking about his family, but added that where there was muck there was money.

Anne had thought, poor bugger, when she'd first met Dennis. Bemused, and no doubt seduced by Carol's blatant behavior, he didn't stand a chance. Sooner or later he'd slip up and get her pregnant and then he'd be snared. Anne didn't want to start off in a marriage like that. It would be worse than being trapped with Enid, because she wasn't trapped by Enid. Sooner or later she would escape from her mother.

She finished her meal and drank down her tea before Liam could come out and repeat his offer. It took less than five minutes to return to the sale but she had to wait almost another hour before the auctioneer announced the opening bid on the table she wanted. Earlier, she'd painstakingly gone through the inventory, carefully measuring any likely pieces that would fit in her room. She had found only one and it was perfect for her; good and sturdy with a nice-sized drawer. It was in terrible shape though, and once she got it home she planned to get rid of the scratch marks and re-varnish it.

Her hopes rose when the bidding started low and there seemed to be no other interest. Then suddenly, the auctioneer took another bid. Glancing behind her, Anne saw a man nod his head and the price rose to two pounds. She matched his bid and then he matched hers, plus another pound. It went on this way until they reached nine pounds. Disregarding her limit, she went up another two pounds, thinking that would stop him. But he bid again, this time going to fifteen pounds, and the table was his. Bitterly disappointed, she didn't see the point in staying any longer.

She wound her way through the crowd to the door, giving the man a reproachful look as she passed. She didn't think he noticed though, he was already bidding another item into the hundreds of pounds. "Going once, going twice… sold." The auctioneer pounded his gavel, and the oak table and six dining room chairs became her opponent's property. He was dressed in expensive clothes and a fine tweed jacket. Plenty of money, Anne thought, and probably a dealer who went around to sales spoiling it for others like her. It didn't seem fair somehow.

She sat outside in the sunshine, brooding on her bad luck. It really was too bad that this had happened. She couldn't think what the man would want with such a tattered old table and was tempted to go back inside and confront him about it. Surely, if she explained why she wanted it so badly, he'd let it go?

She started as she heard a sound behind her, and turned to see that he had come outside. He looked over at her and took a cigar out of a slim, silver case. "You were the young lady bidding against me, weren't you?" he said, blowing a stream of smoke into the air. "What are you doing at a boring old sale like this?"

"It isn't boring if you want something," Anne said. "I came, because I needed a table, and then you outbid me."

"Oh dear." He threw up his arms in mock alarm. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize how serious you were. From my point of view, I thought I should save a possibly valuable antique from a young girl who'd probably paint it pink and stencil flowers all over it."

"I didn't plan to do that at all," she said. "It would have fitted perfectly in my room so I wouldn't have to type off a cardboard box, or in the kitchen with all the prattle and my mother trying to read over my shoulder."

"What do you type?"

Anne was unsure of how much she wanted to divulge about herself. "Stories," she said shortly.

He ambled over and sat on the bench beside her. "What sort of stories?"

"What does it matter? I don't have the table on which to type them now."

"You might."

"What do you mean, I might? Are you proposing to sell it to me for a profit?"

"I was thinking of giving it to you actually."

Anne was embarrassed now. She wasn't normally so rude to people, but he'd really annoyed her. And yet, here he was now offering her the table. She wasn't sure what to do really. She didn't like to say she didn't take gifts from strangers. It would sound silly somehow.

"Think of it as my investment in your future," he said. "When you become famous you can give me a mention at the front of a book. Something like, thanks to Graham Kingsley who provided the table. That's the sort of thing authors do, isn't it?"

"This is very kind of you," she said, relenting a little. "Are you sure I can't at least pay you what I intended to spend?"

"Absolutely sure. Do you want me to help you get it into your car?"

"I didn't come by car. I don't have one."

"I see. I'll have it delivered for you then."

"Oh, but I can arrange that. Thanks all the same."

He took a notebook out of his pocket. "No, I'll see to it." He looked at her expectantly, pen poised.

Anne wasn't sure about giving him her address; she didn't know him from Adam.

"Don't worry. I'm hardly likely to break in and steal the family jewels, if that's what you're worried about."

"Jewels?" Anne laughed. "None of those where I live." She took his pen and scribbled down her address on Clover Street.

"So, who am I delivering it to?" he said, glancing at it. "You haven't written your name."

"It's Anne Graham."

"Anne Graham," he echoed, as he wrote it down. "A good name for a writer if I may say so." He shook her hand. "Delighted to meet you, Anne."

"It's been nice meeting you, too," she said politely.

He stood, glancing at his watch. "I think I should get back inside. There are a couple more things I want to bid on. Would you like to have lunch with me later?"

"I don't think I could eat anything actually," Anne said. "I had an enormous breakfast just a while ago."

Graham chuckled. "What's the betting you'll change your mind once you get there?"

She decided it would seem rude to argue about it. After all, he was giving her the table. "All right then. I'll wait here in the garden until you're finished."

***

Graham happened to be right. Later, as they walked into the inn, Anne was surprised to feel her stomach rumble when she smelled the delicious scents wafting from the kitchen.

She ordered a Ploughman's Lunch, comprising cheese, pickled onions, thick, crusty bread and creamy butter. To drink, she ordered a half-pint of Guinness. Graham ordered a pint of bitter and the chicken soup, saying he'd heard it was delicious.

"Do you come to Widecombe often?" Anne asked.

Graham carried their drinks to a window seat beneath curtains depicting hunting scenes. "I go all over the place," he said. "But never mind me, tell me about yourself."

"There isn't much to tell really," she said, sitting down. "I live in a council house and work as a clerk in an office. Pretty boring really."

He looked at her over the top of his pint as he took a sip. "If you write, you can't be that boring. What do you write, romance?"

"Why would you think that? Because I'm young and I'm a girl?"

"Is it an insult to assume romance would be your genre? I just thought you might be the romantic type, that's all."

Anne considered herself for a moment. If the sound of a skylark could bring joy to one's heart; if a person felt humbled by the texture of a flower petal, and thought every seashell was a tiny miracle; was that being romantic? "I might be, a little," she said. "And I suppose my writing has that flavor. Especially my novel."

"Oh, you've written a novel? But you're so young." He leaned closer. "You are of age I hope? You are allowed in here?"

Anne laughed. "Of course I am. I'm over eighteen."

"How much older?"

"I'm twenty-one."

He chuckled as he put down his pint. "Ah, a real old lady, eh? So what's your novel about? Is it any good?"

"I don't know. I can't judge it."

"You haven't asked anyone for an opinion?"

"No, not yet."

"Not even Bea?"

"Not even Bea," Anne said, with a smile. Although Bea had read every one of her short stories, Anne's novel was somehow more precious to her and she didn't feel ready to talk about it much to others. She'd never forgotten what had happened before when she'd shared a piece of her creativity.

"I suppose I'm afraid of ridicule," she finally said, recalling what had happened when she'd taken one of her poems to school. The Arcane Depths of Dartmoor had impressed her teacher, but her classmates had laughed at her. "What depths?" a classmate had chortled. "Potholes?" Out of pique she had thrown it away, an act she later regretted, and she vowed she would never discard a piece of writing again. It still annoyed her that not one of her peers had been interested in the underlying meaning. At least her teacher had been kind enough to encourage her, and he'd told her not to stop writing.

"You could tell me about it," Graham said. "I wouldn't ridicule you. First though, I'm going to fetch another pint. Would you like another drink?"

Anne could feel the effects of the Guinness already, and declined.

Bea was behind the bar now. Graham must have indicated where he was sitting, as both of them looked over at her and smiled. He was an attractive man, Anne thought. He also had a strong personality and she imagined he could be quite forceful. He was certainly very sure of himself. It struck her that he was quite like she'd imagined Justin le March, one of the characters in her novel. Only Justin might be kinder.

When Graham sat down again she told him that Bea was her aunt.

"I'm not surprised to hear that," Graham said, glancing back at the bar. "I can see the resemblance."

"Oh, she isn't really a relative," Anne said, "just a close friend of the family. Someone I've always known as Aunty Bea--although I've dropped the 'aunty' now I'm older." She thought for a moment about what he'd said. "They say people get to look like their pets, so perhaps that's what's happened to us," she added, laughing. "You know, being close and everything."

"Do you see her often?"

"A fair bit, but not as often as I'd like. It's difficult, getting here by bus." She had enjoyed coming by taxi that day. It had been so pleasurable to be in a car. As they'd approached Haytor, one of the highest tors on Dartmoor, she'd wished so much that she could afford a vehicle of her own so that she could travel around the moor and explore places.

Graham was saying something. "Sorry," she said. "What did you say?"

"A penny for them," he said. "Your thoughts. You were miles away."

"I was thinking about Dartmoor. I love it. I always have. There's something about its magnificence, its vastness that makes me feel akin to it. It's almost as if it's in my blood. "

"You must have been born on Dartmoor then?"

"Oh, I don't think so." She laughed then, embarrassed. "Sorry, I just got carried away a bit."

"You don't think so? You mean, you don't know where you were born?"

Anne fiddled with her empty glass. "My mother never talks about my birth."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. Because of my father I suppose. Or rather, his absence."

"He's passed on, you mean? She's sad?"

"Sad?" Anne laughed. "More like mad, you mean. He left when I was very young."

"He left your mother for another woman? Is that why she's angry with him?"

"I don't think so. All I know is that he disappeared at the end of the war. Anyhow, Enid has this grudge against him."

"Do you hold a grudge against him for not being there?"

"I have at times," she admitted. "But only because I wish he'd taken me with him."

"You sound as though you aren't happy at home?"

Anne sighed. "Living with Enid and my sister isn't easy. I'm always wishing that things could be different."

"Ah, well, the hard truth is, Anne, if you want things to change, you're the one who's going to have to change them."

"Oh, I hope to one day. I'm not going to stand it forever."

"After you leave college, you mean?"

"College?"

"University then," he said, coloring slightly.

"Goodness, Mr. Kingsley, girls like me go straight from school into a job, where they work until they find a husband, get pregnant, and become a housewife." She thought of her sister. Carol, the husband seeker, who had no other ambition than to breed and be kept--although whether she was doing it for herself or to please her mother, Anne wasn't sure. Perhaps Carol didn't even know herself. "When I marry, I'm going to do it right the first time, and make it last forever."

"I was young once, with strong convictions. Life can change things somewhat," Graham said. "So, are you going to tell me about your novel?"

They were getting along well, but Anne had no idea who he was. She didn't know a thing about him. "I think I should keep the novel to myself, if you don't mind."

"Please yourself."

"Well, you might pinch my idea. You could be a writer on the prowl."

He burst out laughing, causing several people at the bar to turn their heads. "How do you know I'm not a publisher looking for some new talent?"

"Only in my dreams," Anne said, rolling her eyes dramatically. "Stop teasing. Anyhow, you don't look like a publisher."

"Ah," he said lightly. "What do I look like?"

"You look too… entrepreneurial. I bet you're busy buying, selling--" She only just stopped herself from saying exploiting.

"I deal in antiques, along with other things," he said. "And I'm asking about your story because although I'm not a publisher, I know a publisher, and I might be able to help you along."

Anne looked at him, askance. Thrilled, yet wondering why he would help her. He hardly knew her.

"People do help one another out in life," Graham said to the suspicious look on her face. "And more than one opportunity has come out of a chance meeting."

That could be true, Anne supposed. So few opportunities had crossed her path, she would hardly know.

"Are you really serious?" she asked.

"I am," he said. "Deadly."

"Okay then. Well, I'll just tell you the basic premise, nothing more. I got the idea from visiting Bea's. She owns a cottage in the valley across from Jay's Grave. Have you heard of the grave?" He shook his head. "It's close to Hound Tor, and the first time I went there, I had such an odd feeling. I felt so drawn to the place, compelled almost, to tell the world about Mary Jay's life."

"What did you know about her?"

"Nothing, at the time. And I haven't found out an awful lot since, except she was indentured out to a local farm from a workhouse in Wolborough. After she was crossed in love, she took her life. She was buried in an unconsecrated grave outside the parish boundary."

"Why on earth was she buried there?"

"In those days, people were suspicious of those who killed themselves, and believed that if they staked suicides through the heart and buried them at a crossroads, their spirits would be confused and couldn't come back to haunt the living."

"What utter nonsense," he said.

"Nonsense or not, it's made a great basis for a story."

"Well, I suppose it's done that much," he agreed. "And I imagine women like that type of story. You mentioned that Mary was crossed in love. What does that mean?"

Anne tried not to bristle at his reference to women's reading preferences. "It means that someone let her down. That perhaps he got her pregnant and either he wouldn't, or couldn't, marry her. Or, she could have been raped. No one really knows. Anyhow, I use that idea in my book and then I've written about the life of her daughter, Kitty."

"Did she in fact have a daughter?"

"I don't know. I don't expect so." Anne laughed. "Come on, Graham, it's fiction."

"I prefer fact," he said. "So, is that it?"

She laughed again. "No, that isn't it, there's tons of it, but it's all I'm going to tell you.

"So, how big a book is it?"

"I think it'll be around one hundred-and-twenty thousand words by the time I've finished, although that's just an estimation."

"Isn't it difficult to write so much?"

"Not really. At least, not in this instance." Anne recalled how, when she had sat down to write, the whole book had poured out of her like rich cream flowing silkily from a jug.

"So, how long do you think it'll take you to complete it?"

"I'm not sure. It's a lot of work, and I expect I'll do some rewriting along the way. I've been reluctant to start until I have my room set up for it. It's been awkward until now." Although Enid was aware of her stories--her silly stories she called them, if she ever mentioned them at all--she had no idea Anne was writing a novel. Anne had no intention of telling her, either. One day she wanted to surprise her mother and sister with her first published book. That would serve them right for ridiculing her, calling her efforts pointless, and saying how stupid she was to even try.

"I'll make sure the table is delivered this evening," Graham said. "You will be at home? You don't have a date or anything?"

Anne glanced across to the bar. Liam was there, and he was staring at them. "No. I don't have a date."

Bea came to the table to clear away their plates and she asked if they would like any dessert.

"The apple pie is fantastic," Anne said, showing Graham the menu. "Bea makes it; all her pies are to die for."

"Is that so?" Graham said. "All right, why not? Two deadly apple pies then, Bea"

As Bea walked away Anne said, "I mean it. She really is a fabulous cook."

"Good cooks usually get snapped up fast," Graham remarked. "I didn't see a ring on her finger."

Anne thought of the signs she'd seen around Bea's cottage that hinted she had a male visitor: gloves left on the sideboard, a man's scarf in the closet. A larger pair of Wellington boots in the mudroom. She hadn't thought it her business to ask and Bea never talked about it, except sometimes she did refer to "we."

"You don't have an uncle, then?"

"There might be someone," Anne said. "But if there is, she keeps it quiet." She had sometimes thought that Bea's acquaintance might be a sailor, and that's why he was away a lot. There was also the possibility that he was a married man, except Bea seemed too wise to get caught up in that sort of game.

It was Liam who brought their dessert, along with a bowl of clotted cream. "Hello," he said, looking curiously at Graham as he put their dishes on the table. "I didn't know your dad would be here today, Anne?" Anne didn't say a word, and Graham just nodded. After glancing at her, Liam walked away.

"He knows you aren't my father," Anne said, furious with Liam for being so rude.

"I know," Graham said. "He was just fishing. He's jealous."

"Oh, honestly, why would he be jealous?"

"You mean, why wouldn't he be? You're a very attractive young lady, and he's probably wondering why you're sitting with me."

"I'm certainly not interested in him!"

"You have a boyfriend already?"

"I'm too busy for dating," Anne said, then added, "besides, boys don't like me very much."

"What? Oh, come on, I can't imagine boys disliking you. Why? Don't you like them?"

"They're okay. Well... men actually. I'd far rather have a man." She colored up, suddenly realizing how that must sound. "Well, you know what I mean."

He cocked an eyebrow. "I think I might." And Anne looked away.

"How about yourself?" she said, when she recovered from her embarrassment. "Do you have a wife? Kiddies, I bet. A man like you is bound to have a family."

"No children. And my wife was killed in a car accident." Graham turned his glass around in his hands and then gulped at his drink.

Anne thought it must upset him to talk about it and wished now she could retract what she'd said. "I'm sorry. Did it happen long ago?"

"A while ago." He took a breath; blew it out as if to say, that's all over with now. And then he said, "Actually, you're the first woman I've had lunch with for pleasure in all that time."

Anne was taken aback. She didn't know what to think. But somehow that comment changed the atmosphere. Something had shifted. She looked into Graham's face at the same time that he looked into hers.

"I'd like to do it again, too," he said. "Would you?"

As he said that, she found herself remembering the dream she'd had the previous night. In the dream she was holding hands with someone who had then turned and kissed her. The man was about her father's age and after she'd woken, she had puzzled for a while, trying to recall his face. She sometimes dreamed about the father she'd never met; however, she didn't think it was him, not this time; and not according to that kiss. Now she wondered if it had been Graham; as if she had somehow foreknown their meeting. It wouldn't be the first time she'd had a premonitory dream.


 

 

PastPresent I: Awareness Copyright 2008. Celia A. Leaman. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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Author Bio

Celia Leaman was raised in Devon, England. After moving to Canada in 1980, she had short stories published in magazines in the UK, Canada, the United States and South Africa. One of these was translated into Braille. She also wrote and co-directed a play, performed on Galiano Island, BC.

Celia writes in several genres. Her more serious novels, her first being Mary's Child, reflect her love of the South Devon moors in England. When Mary's Child was first released, it was a Frankfurt eBook Award and a Reviewers Choice Award nominee. There are two sequels to Mary's Child; PastPresent I: Awareness and PastPresent II: Resolution.

Unraveled is a lighthearted mainstream novel with a touch of fantasy and humor, as is her short story ebook, "Island Stories." Celia has created a whole new island community on Gale Island, a fictional Gulf Island situated between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island.

"Who is Margaret? What is She?" is a book of quirky/alien/fantasy short stories.

TTB titles:
Mary's Child
PastPresent I - sequel to "Mary's Child"
Unraveled  [a Gale Island story.]

Visit Celia's web site

 

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